Learn Your EATs

An epicurean orientation for students new and returning, but also for ACL visitors and recently arrived residents

Gypsy Grove Sandwich at Food Heads
Gypsy Grove Sandwich at Food Heads (Photo By John Anderson)

Campus Food Secrets Revealed

When you work on campus like I do, you are always tuned in to the whispered restaurant scuttlebutt and keeping a sharp eye open for new openings. The Chronicle suggested that I put a few of my favorites to paper, so that the new arrivals on campus could save themselves some money – and a lot of indigestion – through my restaurant revelations. I begin with that most fulfilling of options, Asian cuisine.

For Thai food, Madam Mam's (2514 Guadalupe, 472-8306) is first and foremost the best Asian anywhere near Campus, and the best Thai in town. I've eaten the entire menu, and there are no slackers to be found: Pristinely fresh ingredients are used to produce incredibly authentic Thai cuisine in large portions at very good prices. The food is as good as that found in Siam, and Mam is a culinary genius. Thai Kitchen (3009 Guadalupe, 474-2575) is my second choice for campus Thai. Toy's back in control here, cranking out some great food at reasonable prices. Lunch is a good deal, and he'll make it hotter than you can handle, if you're foolish enough to ask.

For Korean, there are two obscure restaurants that shine. Yen Ching Chinese Noodle House (2910 Guadalupe, 472-4754) does some incredibly tasty homemade Korean and Chinese noodle dishes (your waitperson can tell you which ones are Korean). Their spicy pork with bean curd is a superb version. Oma's Kitchen (Dobie Mall, 472-8018) has a fairly complete Korean menu at unbelievably great prices. Excellent spicy pork & kimchi and tender spicy squid are reliable options in the $5.50 range.

Next up in terms of satisfaction is a good burger. It's hard to top Burger Tex II (2912 Guadalupe, 477-8433), a Korean-run burger spot with a load-your-own fixin's buffet, great juicy burgers, crisp fries, and tempura style onion rings. Our favorite sleeper here: the bulgogi burger. Dirty Martin's (2808 Guadalupe, 477-3173) has been there since 1926, and you go there for the ice-cold beer, the O.T. Special bacon burgers, and handmade onion rings. Thankfully, the recent remodeling didn't ruin the funky feel of the joint. For the best sandwich near campus (and the best in town), there is Food Heads (616 W. 34th, 420-8400), where they make everything from artisanal components in artistic combinations. We love anything done with their pork tenderloin.

Latino cuisine is thick around campus, but a pair of places on Manor Road makes the short drive worth it. El Chile (1809 Manor Rd., 457-9900) produces some fantastic enchiladas (mole rojo, sí), but their creative effort really goes into the daily specials. Definitely check the board before you order. Vivo (2015 Manor Rd., 482-0300) has those San Antonio-style puffy tacos, along with healthy sauces, delicious tortilla soup, and refined salsa with quasi-elegant ambience. Drinks at both are first-rate. We also love the mahi fish tacos, the tacos al pastor, and the handmade tortillas at Chango's (3023 Guadalupe, 480-TACO).

Great barbecue is just a few blocks away. Ruby's BBQ (512 W. 29th, 477-1651) is known for their hormone-free meats, but go there for the side dishes, also (we love the collards and the smoked-chicken salad). John Mueller's BBQ (1917 Manor Rd., 236-0283) is a CenTex BBQ Belt kind of place: dark and smoky, with excellent brisket and ribs. They leave when they sell out, so don't dawdle. Hoover's (2002 Manor Rd., 479-5006) also does some killer 'cue, and the plate lunches, catfish, jerk chicken, veggie sides, and desserts here are soulful.

For the meatless bunch, the best is Veggie Heaven (1914-A Guadalupe, 457-1013), where you'll find Taiwanese-style vegetarian and vegan. You're packed in like sardines, but the tangerine mushrooms and the cathay fajitas are well worth it. Kismet (411 W. 24th, 236-1811) has some delectable Middle Eastern vegetarian options. Their veggie plate, falafel, and the Greek salads are all best in class.

Lastly, there is the food group that students can subsist on for months, and it can be veggie or loaded with meats: pizza. There are three that we love. Niki's Pizza (Dobie Mall, 474-1876) does a nice NYC-style pizza, along with calzones and some pasta dishes. Slices and Ices (2530 Guadalupe, 322-9499) is the upstart that's making waves with mouth-watering NYC-style pies (whole or by the slice), along with Italian ices (most refreshing in the heat). Austin's Pizza (2324 Guadalupe, 480-0300) has an intriguing menu of designer options, a nice yeasty crust, and uses swanky ingredients to produce a solidly satisfying pie.

There is some great fresh food around the campus area, and in abundant variety. What makes it all the more appealing (especially for those with no vehicle, no parking place, or those that can't afford the gas) is that you can get close to almost every single one of these via UT shuttle bus. Flee the dorm cafeteria, ditch the chicken wings, and eat good food!

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